Sometimes an interview is just an interview. And sometimes, you leave an interview feeling like you have just created a new branch on your family tree. That’s how I felt after sitting with JB Bernstein, Dinesh Patel, Rinku Singh – the real people upon which Disney’s new movie MILLION DOLLAR ARM is based. They felt like family.
I was thrilled to be able to interview JB, Dinesh and Rinku before the red carpet premiere of Million Dollar Arm. Although travel, accomodations, and experiences were covered by Disney all thoughts are my own.
How it all began:
In the movie, it shows how sports agent JB Bernstein decided to do “The Million Dollar Arm” contest. We asked if they would say it was relatively accurate to how everything actually began.
JB: Like any idea, I have Business Partners and they were part of the idea-generating but it’s hard to tell a movie from 80 points of view. In reality, my two business partners, Will Chang and Ash Vasudevan, helped us – we kind of were all thinking about these things separately and it wasn’t really until we came together that the idea went from this nebulous fuzzy thing (to a concrete plan) to try to do this Game Show and see if we could find some athletes. So it’s pretty accurate in that it shows the inspirations for things but obviously, I’m not smart enough to come up with this idea by myself.
On being portrayed on the big screen:
We asked all 3 men how it felt seeing themselves portrayed in a movie. Rinku commented in particular about how he felt about Suraj Sharma playing him:
DINESH: This is a big deal for me. I’m very happy and my family is also happy.
RINKU: (Suraj) has done a great job. I mean, he’s not just a great Actor, he’s also a great human. Meeting him as a person, it just really meant a lot how he really was nice. And the way he actually did it, was awesome. I really liked it.
JB commented on what it was like to be portrayed on the big screen by Jon Hamm:
The fact that with everything available to Jon Hamm that he chose to play me is very humbling and surreal. And he gets me really, really well. There are parts of the movie where friends of mine have seen him and go ‘Oh My Gosh, how long did he stay with you?’ And I was like I didn’t meet him until halfway through the filming. So he obviously thought I’m the most trite person ever…or they wrote a great script.
But it was really humbling and he’s become a good friend and someone that I really care about and someone who is just a genuinely good guy. You meet a lot of celebrities in my line of business and you realize they’re just like regular people. Some are very nice and some are jerks and you know, the richer they are, the more free they are to be their true person and Jon is just one of these guys who probably has been the same since he was a kid. He’s the same guy, very even keeled, nice guy and I’m really lucky to have him play me.
I’m sure it was surreal for all of them to relive moments of their not-so-distant past played out on the big screen!
What was it like to learn to play baseball?
RINKU: It really takes some time. Just like, if you took American baseball player and made them become a cricket player, they’d have no idea how to pitch in Cricket, right? So that was totally different world for me coming here and playing professional baseball. Had no idea. It did take a year but I believe that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in your life if you’re willing to give whatever you got inside and out, you are gonna succeed.
What was that like to leave family and home?
It’s never easy to leave home and family and everything you know. These boys had hardly traveled outside their hometown before leaving for the US. I can only imagine what it was like for them to transition to America – literally everything was new for them.
DINESH: My parents were really afraid by I’m leaving. They said, don’t go because this is the new world for me.
RINKU: We didn’t just leave the family. Besides the family, we left our Culture, Family, Friends, Food…and we were just 18 year old kids. Making that huge decision wasn’t easy for us. What are we gonna do without knowing anything about American Culture? We don’t know language. We don’t know anybody besides JB. And our parents, they were really afraid cause we never went out of the Country.
And that really changes our life, you know. So I’m really proud of the decision I made coming to America. It’s totally amazing. It has changed my life, changed my family’s life, and I wanted to stay here.
Home is always gonna be home no matter what. No matter how happy you are in another country, you’re always gonna miss home. I’m pretty sure that it would be the same for you guys. Doesn’t matter where you live. You always miss your home. For me, being here, I have to be happy. I am happy to be here just ’cause my dream is here. I got my Mom and Dad there and once in a year, I go back to home, get my heart charged, get ready for another year or two.
Dinesh is currently living in India again with his family, but he said, “When I was here, I missed a lot about home. But right now, I’m living in India with my family. I’m happy.”
JB asked, “Do you miss America now that you’re back in India?”
JB: What do you miss? Movies? TV?
DINESH: Of course. Pizza.
JB: Of all the true parts, that is one of them!
When you see the movie, you’ll know how true the pizza comment is!
Million Dollar Arm: a life-changing experience!
Rinku and Dinesh were not the only people whose lives were changed by the Million Dollar Arm contest. I love what JB had to say:
JB: I’ve been a Sports Agent for 20 years. I’ve never done anything good until I met these guys. You know, Lisa (our publicist) actually got to go to the White House to meet Obama. I was getting married that day.
I would probably speak for all of us when we say that this is a really personal journey for us. It’s not like your traditional business deal that I’ve done and it’s something that obviously a very pivotal point in our life. So you know, our hope is really two things. One is that people take away what these guys have endured and persevered in order to be successful and take away that lesson that dreams are possible in this country more so than maybe anywhere else in the world. Now for kids, to be able to look at Rinku and Dinesh as role models and say ‘Look, if these guys did this, you know, I can do anything.’
It’s that first spark of hope not just for kids in India but for kids here, for kids everywhere. They have these two guys to look at, who have done something that’s never been done in the history of the world, to go from a position of never hearing of the sport. Rinku won his first game 13 months from the day he picked up a Baseball. Dinesh won his first game 14 months from the first day that he picked up a Baseball. And I mean, that’s just unheard of. I mean, I’ve been a sports man my whole life. I’ve been an agent my whole adult life. I’ve never heard of anything like this. I never heard of anybody even thinking something like this could be possible.
And then, for my story, I think that I’m excited for people to realize it’s never too late to change. It’s never too late to be a better person and it’s not that I was a bad person. I think I was somewhat one dimensional. Everybody says, ‘Were you really that big a jerk?’ and I side step that question because I didn’t feel like a jerk at the time. I wasn’t trying to be. I just was very myopic and I think that now, thanks to these guys, thanks to my family, I have a much different view. So I’m kind of hoping that those two things come through to the general audience but it’s exciting to be able after 6 years of negotiating and filming and whatever, to be able to actually finally share this with the world.
Rinku added: “It really opened (kids in India’s) eyes and they are dreaming big now just like we proved to them (that it was possible). They talk about: be like Rinku and Dinesh. We already have done enough to make them realize that if you want to see dreams, see something big. So those kids really seeing their dream in us…”
JB is now the father of 3-year-old Delphine, although he describes that first year with Rinku and Dinesh as a sort of “baptism of fire” into parenthood.
JB: Having Rinku and Dinesh live with me gave me a taste of Fatherhood. It reminded me of the importance of family. It reminded me of the importance of being surrounded by people that you love and that love you. And being able to take pride in other people’s accomplishments. A lot of the rudimentary lessons of life came back into focus, so I think in a lot of ways, I started being a parent, although kind of baptism by fire with these guys.
Million Dollar Arm continues….
Did you know that the Million Dollar Arm contest is still running in India? JB and his team have continued to return to India since 2008.
JB: During our first season, we saw about 38,000 kids. This year we’ll see half a million. I mean, Major League Baseball is now playing a big part in it. We have a lot more muscle to flex than it was me, Rinku, Dinesh, Ash and Will. Not that the 5 of us aren’t formidable on some level. We have a little bit more muscle to flex and a little bit bigger microphone so I’m hoping that we’ll find talent.
There’s a monetary side to this thing. But there’s a social side to it that really none of us saw coming that has really become the primary focus of “Million Dollar Arm” which sound weird for an Agent to say ’cause you know, I’m suppose to be about making money. But this is a unique opportunity we have to have almost a social revolution.
The real events that inspired Million Dollar Arm have not only changed the lives of those invloved, but they are life-changing for those that see the movie. I was deeply touched! And even though I have already seen it twice, I can’t wait to see it again with my family now that it comes to theaters this week!
PS – be sure to join us TONIGHT 5/15 at 8pm ET for the #MillionDollarArmEvent twitter party (JB says he’ll try to make an appearance!)
Check out the fun we have had so far by following the hashtag: #MillionDollarArmEvent
Like MILLION DOLLAR ARM on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MillionDollarArm
Follow MILLION DOLLAR ARM on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DisneyPictures
Visit the Official Site: www.Disney.com/MillionDollarArm
MILLION DOLLAR ARM opens in theaters everywhere on May 16th!
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